Neal Mehrenberg is Bringing the Wilkinsburg Train Station’s Marble Back to Life

The passion and pride that Neal Mehrenberg brings to his work are evident almost immediately after one meets him on the job site, inside the expansive central waiting room of the Wilkinsburg train station. Mehrenberg, a bricklayer with Marsa, Inc., considers the painstaking restoration of the interior marble—patching and polishing original sections, fitting pieces old and new into the array like a puzzle, ensuring that the copper ties holding the marble in place withstand the decades—a true artform. As Mehrenberg reflects on the nearly completed project, specializing in historic restoration isn’t just a career; it’s a way of life, a privilege, and a legacy. The Wilkinsburg Train Station transformation is undoubtedly a highlight achievement.

Neal and his crew, comprised of Rick Lopatta and Troy Sackett (with Excel Glass providing cutting services), began his work at the station on August 8, 2018. His team’s first task was to assess and then reconstruct the iconic exterior clock structure crowning the building’s façade facing Ross Avenue. Inside the building, countless broken pieces of marble that had already separated from the walls were carefully numbered and organized in neat stacks on the floor to await restoration and reattachment, where possible. Nearly all of the intact marble wall facing would eventually be taken down, cleaned, polished, and reattached, starting with meticulous staging and labeling. Marble polishers ran seemingly continuously for months.

Marble, while obviously a stone, is also very much like a living entity. Each piece has its own unique character; each slab polishes and cleans up differently; and thinner cuts can warp and deform over time. Imperfections, whether natural or the result of human activity and inevitable wear, are part of the story of each fragment of this versatile, elegant, classic architectural material. It’s not always prudent or even constructive to conceal flaws, and choices regarding whether—and where—to patch the stone, or not, are carefully considered.

Visitors to the train station will note several different types of marble as they stroll the interior spaces. Most of the stone adorning the walls throughout the building is the beige, or light cream–colored, Italian Botticino marble. (Interestingly, it wasn’t fully known until cleaning of the marble had started that the marble sported a naturally cream-yellow complexion.) White Carrera marble can be found in the form of interior sills as well as the anteroom leading toward the tunnel access to what was once the train platforms. Tinos green marble accents complete the ensemble.

Neal Mehrenberg describes a restoration job properly approached and executed as one that presents a timeless quality: an experience akin to traveling back to the early years of a building’s thriving heyday, rather than detecting a tangible modern-day intervention on the space. As the Wilkinsburg station approaches its 105th year, entering a brand-new chapter in its story, the sense of stepping back in time is both palpable and irresistible. 

Story by Michael Jehn
Photographs by Jason Cohn